A video still of a demonstration of BlackBerry’s QNX operating system
BlackBerry is getting $40 million in federal funding to help develop technologies that make cars safer, more connected to cyberspace and, eventually, capable of driving themselves.
The company is putting $310 million of its own money into the initiative, expected to create 800 jobs over the next decade at BlackBerry’s campus in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata, as well as support 300 existing jobs there.
The one-time smartphone leader is now working on advanced systems for vehicles and will put the federal money toward software development for the next generation of autonomous vehicles as well as skills training for workers.
BlackBerry says its QNX software is already in 120 million cars, guiding systems related to driver assistance features (such as automatic braking to avoid collisions), hands-free commands, and entertainment.
BlackBerry QNX plans to develop new automated-control systems, upgrade and secure communications in vehicles, and improve car safety by expanding its driver-assistance system.
The company says these are milestones along the road to truly driverless cars, which are still years away from becoming widely available to consumers.
The federal money is coming from the government’s Strategic Innovation Fund, a program intended to stimulate development of innovative products.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference Friday the federal money for BlackBerry QNX software is a sign the government supports Canadian technology companies that want to lead in a new economy.
“Think of this new platform as the central nervous system of your car. It will consolidate things like lane assistance and blind-spot detection, so that the cars of the future are safer and more reliable,” he said.
“For a global leader like QNX, this represents an unprecedented opportunity for growth. Of course, the competition is fierce.”
According to the government, Canada’s expertise in emerging technologies is attracting significant investments in autonomous and connected-vehicle research from global firms such as General Motors and Ford and tech players like Uber, Google and Nvidia.
The QNX technology being developed for cars also has applications for medicine, the military, drones, industrial automation, nuclear power plants and high-speed rail, said senior BlackBerry executive John Wall.
More immediately, the developments will make cars safer, he said.
“I think in 2025 your car’s not going to be very different than it is today, except it’ll have more safety features, and that will trickle down to even the less-expensive vehicles,” Wall said. “What I would like to see out of all of this is less accidents and less fatalities related to cars.”
While BlackBerry is working toward fully self-driving cars, they are not expected to be commercially available in a big way before 2035 or 2040, he said.
The pace of technological development aside, consumers also have to be psychologically ready for the advent of autonomous vehicles, something that might take time.
In addition, there are myriad regulatory issues to be worked out in jurisdictions around the world to ensure the new applications have government approval and meet common standards, Wall said.
“The technology may be moving faster than the regulatory bodies are moving.”